Lunch. It’s that usually rather inconvenient meal situated in the middle of the day, right in between your morning meetings and afternoon paperwork. Who has time to actually sit down and eat, let alone enjoy, their lunch? Aren’t there any quick and easy options out there that are reasonable?
Believe it or not, one of the most cost-effective and healthful meals that you can eat for lunch is not much more than a simple salad! But salads need not be restricted to the label “simple” – they can be as extreme or wild as you can dream up!
Aim for salads with a well-rounded balance of the major nutrients – healthy fats, protein and carbs. Imagine, being able to get the majority of your recommended daily vegetables in just one meal, while having it be fully satisfying, provide long-lasting energy and fits in with your clean eating efforts. Plus, bringing salads to work with you for lunch instead of hitting the snack machine or grabbing a fast food meal absolutely helps you to shed more of those unwanted pounds, provided that you use low-calorie dressings and watch the portion sizing.
Salad dressing… a hidden enemy
You wouldn’t think that the dressing you put on your salad can harm you diet goals as much as it sometimes does… but beware! Many dressings are laden with fats, oils and unnecessary calories that we aren’t even aware of. A fantastic example of something to beware of is salads you get in restaurants – many will add one-quarter to one-half cup of dressing made from saturated or damaging trans-fat oils. To avoid this, be sure to ask for the dressing to be served on the side, then use only a small amount if you absolutely need it.
However, there are also salad combinations that are so good all in their own that they don’t even need dressing at all! However, it is possible to find low-calorie, healthy options to use for dressing up your salads that add all the flavour without packing on the pounds. Try some of these healthier options:
- High-quality olive oil, flaxseed oil or sesame oil mixed with fresh herbs
- Low-fat Italian dressing
- Non-fat yogurt or cottage cheese with dill or other herbs and Dijon mustard
- Lemon juice
- Vinaigrettes typically use three parts oil to one part vinegar mixed with herbs and Dijon mustard or another emulsifier. For a healthier option, try using less oil and experiment with pear, raspberry, balsamic or white wine vinaigrettes
Try to avoid fat-free dressings, as they can be high in sodium and sugar. Low-fat dressings can also contain processed ingredients, such as thickeners and starches which does nothing but add empty calories.
You can’t eliminate all fats from your diet however, or else you would be missing the benefits of lowered cholesterol and heart disease risk, improved mood, less fatigue and more. “The American Heart Association recommends that 25-30 percent of your diet come from fat, with 7 percent or less of your total daily calories coming from saturated fat and the rest from polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats”. Try including any of these healthier fats in moderation:
- Nuts and seeds
- Fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, trout, and mackerel that is broiled, grilled, or steamed
- Oils (olive oil, sesame oil, etc.)
Adding protein to any meal is a great idea, because it fuels your body’s muscle-building endeavours and helps keep you mentally alert. If your salad isn’t filling you up all the way, try adding a source of protein and see if it helps.
Don’t forget that protein comes from sources other than meat as well! Try these vegetarian-friendly sources of protein:
- Unsalted and rinsed beans and legumes, such as edamame, chick peas, black beans, kidney beans, lentils, and lima beans
- Nuts and seeds (preferably unsalted) add crunch, texture, and protein to your salad. Try chopped walnuts, pecans, or peanuts, slivered almonds, or pine nuts, and roasted sunflower, pumpkin, sesame, or flax seeds.
- Chopped boiled egg
- Grilled, baked, or steamed fish or canned, water-packed tuna
- Grilled or baked chicken or turkey breast
- Grass-fed beef
- Non-fat cottage cheese
Protein is a great addition to any salad, as it enhances the flavour and makes the overall energy boost that much better.
The Canadian Food Guide states that we should all be consuming five to six servings per day of fibrous, leafy carbs. Salads are a great way to achieve this while adding fibre, nutrients, lasting energy and satiety to your meals. Healthy options can be anything from baby spinach, romaine, watercress, Swiss chard and kale… apples, pears, berries, melons, grapes… tomatoes, broccoli, bell peppers, mushrooms, radishes, snow peas… the list is longer than you might think, and there are hundreds of combinations of healthy and satisfying salad ingredients out there.
Raise your fork!
Long gone are the days of sandwiches and leftover meatloaf. You can create any number of salad combinations and never get bored… it never has to be the same from one day to the next! One of the keys to losing weight is tricking your body; if you don’t let yourself get stuck in a rut of repeated patterns of eating and exercise, you will keep your body guessing and in doing do, maximize your weight loss. So grab some lettuce, vegetables and a fork… cheers to salad!